Recent Sikh history: An inside story
17 June, 2010
By Arun Anand
Book: "1984: Lessons From History", Author: Harminder Kaur; Publisher: Corporate Vision, Price: Rs.595; Pages: 245
India witnessed a spate of inter-linked tragic events in the year 1984 - Operation Bluestar and the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh body guards, followed by anti-Sikh riots in capital Delhi and several other parts of the country that shook the conscience and secular fabric of the country.
This book examines the events that took place in 1984 in the larger context of centre-Sikh relations during the 20th century and especially in the post-independence era. It brings out the inside story of intrigue and conflict in centre-Sikh relations and the conflicts between the two that started before the independence of India culminating in the tragedies of 1984.
The author, a senior journalist who has covered Punjab extensively from 1978 onwards, produces a series of documents - including the Rajiv Gandhi-Longowal record, the Akali Dal's memorandum to the Sarkaria Commission related to centre-state relations, a Parliamentary Committee's report on the demand for a separate Punjabi province in 1965 and the Punjab Boundary Commission report 1966 - to support her argument that these tragic events were largely a result of confrontationist politics propagated by the Congress as well as the Akalis for their own petty political gains.
Kaur depicts through extensive research of official documents and a series of interviews with various Akali and Congress leaders that while the Congress leadership at the centre prior to 1984 was concerned about vote bank politics, the Akalis displayed poor leadership qualities too.
She has tried to answer the question raised in this work itself, "Who was responsible for the political atmosphere that made the fundamentalism of (Jarnail Singh) Bhindranwale relevant?"
"We cannot overlook the fact that he (Bhindranwale) was used and abused by the political forces of the day. Both the Congress as well as the Akali Dal used him for their own benefit...Since both tolerated him for their individual benefits he fed on his self-importance," she says.
That is why even after Operation Bluestar at the Golden Temple in Amritsar in which Sikh militant leader Bhindranwale was killed, terrorism in Punjab became an even bigger problem.
Taking a look at the political events during the last 15 years, the book says the emergence of coalition politics at the centre has provided an opportunity to the Sikhs to put past grievances behind and move ahead.
However, there is a word of caution, "...political, territorial and economic problems (of Punjab) still await a political resolution".
The interviews of then president Giani Zail Singh immediately after Operation Bluestar, Sant Longowal and other Akali stalwarts as well as many senior Congress leaders done by the author provide more than a glimpse of various shades of the realpolitik during the 1980s and early 1990s when the Indian state was grappling with the gravest threat to its integrity in Punjab since independence.
The book has several rare photographs, including the one in which Sant Longowal and Bhindranwale are shown engrossed in a discussion. Later both became adversaries and Longowal was assassinated by Sikh militants in 1985, a month after he had signed a historic agreement, the Punjab Accord, with then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.